Disney’s Pixar Studios is as well known for their cute, clever, animated shorts as they are for their blockbuster films. Since the animation studio was founded in February 1986, Pixar has produced dozens of short films to accompany its movies, including a new animated short, called “Bao,” which will be shown in theaters before “Incredibles 2.”
“Bao” follows a Chinese mother struggling with empty nest syndrome who forms a parental bond with one of her dumplings after it comes alive. Shi says that she drew her inspiration from her own mother, who also served as a cultural consultant on the film.
Having “Bao” be both written and directed by a woman is a significant step forward for Pixar. In recent years, the studio has come under criticism for its male-dominated culture.
For some notable examples: John Lasseter, former head of Walt Disney Animation and Pixar, left after it was revealed that he had a pattern of making unwanted sexual advances toward female employees; the only woman to direct a Pixar feature film, 2012’s “Brave,” was replaced midway through development; and Rashida Jones stopped her work on “Toy Story 4,” citing her belief that Pixar creates “a culture where women and people of color do not have an equal creative voice.”
Pixar’s step into women-driven storytelling with “Bao,” then, is delightful to see. Although there unquestionably needs to be more done to improve the culture in Pixar Studios, it is nice to see the studio take a step forward by finally showcasing a female-directed short.
Of course, the lack of female-led animated features is certainly not an issue that solely affects Pixar. According to research conducted in 2015 by the Animation Guide, only 17 percent of writers and 10 percent of directors are women.
In total, the Animation Guide found that women make up only 20 percent of the animation workforce. That’s why it is so important that “Bao” is written and directed by a woman.
Since there are so few women working in animation, “Bao” is an important step for the representation of the incredibly talented women working in the animation field.
Due to the previous dismal record that Pixar, and animation in general, has had regarding representation of women, “Bao” represents a unique marker of female storytelling that has, for far too long, been lacking.
I’m hoping that “Bao” represents just the beginning of animated shorts and features being directed, written and produced by women.